If you have sensitive skin, then you know all too well how the wrong product can leave your face inflamed, stinging, itching or burning.
As I explained in my sensitive skin tutorial, invisible irritation from our beauty products is actually the most common cause of sensitivity—far more so than allergens, genetics or environmental factors.
It's not surprising when you consider that ingredients lists have been getting longer and ever more complex. And our routines have become more involved, with multiple steps and multiple active ingredients. There's a lot of potential for reactions!
That's why it's so important to choose your products wisely, and I'm here to help.
Below, I'm sharing what I consider to be the BEST skincare products for sensitive skin (or any skin!), all made with as few irritants as possible.
What to Avoid If You Have Sensitive Skin
First, let's recap how to go about choosing sensitive skin-friendly products.
These are the most common irritants for sensitive skin:
- Essential oils
- Detergents (sulfates)
- Drying alcohols
- Witch hazel
- Glycolic acid
- Oxybenzone, avobenzone and other chemical sunscreen filters
- Brushes and scrubs
Depending on your skin, preferences and budget, you may want to be super strict about avoiding all of these, or you may be able to give yourself more leeway here and there.
Often, it's not one product that makes your skin freak out, but an accumulated irritation from using multiple problematic products.
The concentration of ingredients matters as well. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that first five ingredients will, on average, compose about 80 percent of the product. Sometimes, irritating ingredients won't pose a problem when they are at the end of an ingredients list, in trace amounts. (So, two of my picks below have essential oil, but as they are specifically formulated for sensitive skin, the oils are very DILUTED.)
In general, less is more. The more ingredients in a product, the more chance it will cause a reaction!
BIOeffect Micellar Cleansing Water
Micellar waters can be great for sensitive skin—in fact, they can even replace your regular face wash, if you like. But choose one that is simple and gentle, like BIOeffect Micellar Cleansing Water. This has been part of my skincare routine for the past while, and I ADORE it. It's fragrance-free and has Sephora's "clean beauty" stamp of approval... and most importantly, it WORKS! It gets off all my makeup and my skin never feels dry or tight afterward.
Of course, Bioderma Sensibio H2O is the OG micellar cleanser, and I love that product, too. (It's also much cheaper!)
S.W. Basics Cleanser
Another cleansing water I'd recommend is the S.W. Basics Cleanser. Get this—it only contains three ingredients, rosewater, vegetable glycerin and tea tree oil. That's it! This product is currently in my morning routine; I just swipe it on with a Shiseido Facial Cotton pad. While rinsing is optional with micellar water, this one you do need to rinse off. It doesn't give me any of the temporary redness that I can get with conventional cleansers, and it leaves your skin ridiculously soft!
Note: The tea tree is an essential oil, yes, but it's going to be well diluted here. So, I still think this formula is worth trying because it's so simplistic!
Peet Rivko Gentle Cleanser
If I had to choose a cream cleanser for sensitive skin, it would be Peet Rivko Gentle Cleanser. It's fragrance-free, sulfate-free, non-foaming and non-stripping. Gentle coconut-based surfactants do the cleaning, while glycerin, propanediol, panthenol, allantoin and aloe vera provide hydration. Plus, this line was created by a woman who has reactive skin herself!
Graydon Super Sensitive Face Foam Unscented Cleanser
If you like the texture of foaming cleansers, but not how dry and tight your skin usually feels afterward, then I have the product for you. Graydon Super Sensitive Face Foam Unscented Cleanser is a foaming face wash specifically formulated for sensitive skin. It is free of sulfates, fragrance and essential oils, and the foam is light and airy, not creamy (thanks to willow bark extract and apple cider vinegar). This is a great choice for summer or anyone on the normal to oily side. I've already gone through a whole bottle!
Avène Tolérance Extrême Cleansing Lotion
Avène Tolérance Extrême Cleansing Lotion is a great drugstore cleansing option. You might be surprised (like I was) to discover that it is free of sulfates, mineral oil, silicones, fragrance and preservatives. There are actually only seven ingredients, including squalane, glycerin and a fatty alcohol. The texture of this one is a milk.
Note: While they say you don't need to rinse it off, I would! And then follow up with your cleansing water of choice, just to make sure your skin is thoroughly clean.
Derma E Sensitive Skin Cleanser
Then there is Derma E Sensitive Skin Cleanser, a milky cleanser in convenient pump packaging. This one, too, is fragrance-free and sulfate-free, and uses plant-derived cleansing agents (it doesn't produce a foam at all). They claim that it will actually reduce redness. I'm not sure about that, but soothing, moisturizing ingredients like panthenol, allantoin and aloe vera can't hurt!
ClarityRx Brighten It 10% Lactic Acid Solution
Not all sensitive skin can tolerate acids, but if you want to give them a shot, I'd go with either lactic acid or a mild salicylic acid. Lactic is the gentlest and most hydrating acid, while salicylic has anti-inflammatory properties. The problem is, most formulas are either too strong for sensitive skin or have other ingredients that may be too irritating for sensitive skin. Except for ClarityRx Brighten It 10% Lactic Acid Solution, that is. I recently found out it contains just water and 10 percent lactic acid—nothing else!
Peet Rivko Exfoliator
For those who like scrubs, my suggestion is Peet Rivko Exfoliator. Unlike most gritty exfoliants, which are too harsh and scratchy on the skin, this one features smooth, round jojoba beads that won't cause damage. It also has oatmeal and rice bran, in a base of glycerin and non-foaming surfactants. Again, no fragrance or essential oils, and you can even use this in place of cleanser!
Foreo Luna 3 for Sensitive Skin
Alternatively, consider replacing your exfoliant with a tool instead! The Foreo Luna 3 for Sensitive Skin is a hand-held silicone cleansing brush that you use in conjunction with your cleanser. Not only does it remove 99.5 percent of dirt and oil, but it also gives you a gentle exfoliation. I've had mine for several years now, and it is one of my most-used skincare gadgets!
Consonant HydrExtreme is my all-time favourite hydrating serum—I've raved about it on this website dozens of times! The first thing you need to know is that it's one of the most minimal formulas around, with only two ingredients: cassia angustifolia seed extract (a polysaccharide) and glycerin. The second thing you need to know is that it outperformed hyaluronic acid in an independent, double-blind clinical trial. It works wonders on all skin, especially sensitive skin and conditions like dermatitis and eczema.
Kristina Holey + Marie Veronique Barrier Restore Serum
Kristina Holey + Marie Veronique Barrier Restore Serum is the creation of a holistic facialist (Kristina Holey) and a skincare formulator (Marie-Veronique Nadeau), whose mission was to develop products that support a healthy skin barrier. (Sensitive skin originates from a compromised skin barrier!) As such, they don't use any fragrance, essential oils or microcidal preservatives like phenoxyethanol. This serum replaces and seals in the skin's natural moisturizing factors (NMF) with ceramides, amino acids and high-molecular weight hyaluronic acid.
Pai Back To Life Hydration Serum
Pai Back to Life Hydration Serum is a lightweight and fast-penetrating serum that, like all Pai products, was made with sensitive and eczema-prone skin in mind. It hydrates with ingredients like glycerin, lactobacillus ferment, coconut extract, jojoba oil and hyaluronic acid, and is free of fragrance, alcohol, parabens and phenoxyethanol. My skin really drinks this up!
Note: This one does have diluted amounts of jasmine, May Chang and rose geranium oils, but as it is specifically made for sensitivity, I think most skin will tolerate it.
Kristina Holey + Marie Veronique Soothing B3 Serum
It's no secret that I am a huge fan of niacinamide. As I explained in this tutorial, it treats just about every skin issue, including the redness and weakened skin barrier associated with sensitivity. If that sounds like you, Kristina Holey + Marie Veronique Soothing B3 Serum would be my recommendation. It features a 10 percent concentration of niacinamide in a gel base with no fragrance or essential oils.
GEORGANIC Propolis Acne Care Serum
GEORGANIC Propolis Acne Care Serum is your K-beauty option, and it's not just for acne. This is a soothing, healing serum for any type of irritated skin. It contains 78 percent Centella Asiatica extract (an Asian herb with hydrating benefits); 10 percent propolis (a.k.a. "bee glue," which is anti-inflammatory); and two percent niacinamide. No preservatives, no fragrance! I've been testing this out for about a week and like it a lot!
Note: There is alcohol in the ingredients list, but the concentration is only 1.95 percent!
Caudalie Grape Water
A lot of face mists contain potential irritants, but not Caudalie Grape Water. It's my pick for sensitive skin because it's a blend of 98 percent grape water and two percent grape juice (nothing else!). Grapes are rich in mineral salts and polysaccharides that have soothing and hydrating properties—so this spray can actually help to take down redness. You can also layer it in between skincare steps to pack in more hydration.
Dr Roebuck’s Nuddy Ultra Hydrating and Repair Creme
If you are super dry and sensitive, Dr Roebuck's Nuddy Ultra Hydrating and Repair Creme is the moisturizer for you. This is a rich but non-greasy cream that is made from clean ingredients like glycerin, castor oil and hyaluronic acid—and no fragrance. The texture is a little different because initially, it leaves a white layer on your skin; you just need to give it a minute to sink in. You can also wear this as an overnight mask!
Truly Organic Doll Face Face Cream
Truly Organic Doll Face Face Cream is one of the simplest—and frankly, BEST—moisturizers I've ever found. The ingredients list is so short that I'll just list it here: soy lethicin, xanthan gum, aloe vera, coconut oil, cocoa butter, vitamin E, witch hazel, hyaluronic acid, sea kelp and seaweed extract. It's practically food-grade! You'll also be happy to know that the texture is rich but not greasy. Along with the GEORGANIC, I've been using this for the past week and I'm in love. It doesn't break me out, and there's nothing in here that would irritate you.
Note: I don't think the witch hazel is a problem so far down this ingredients list.
Peet Rivko Daily Moisturizer
Peet Rivko Daily Moisturizer is another simple moisturizer, with a clean formula free of fragrance, essential oils and harsh actives. This contains a mix of humectants like glycerin and aloe, along with shea butter and jojoba oil to lock in moisture. It has a light texture and won't feel greasy.
Derma E Sensitive Skin Moisturizing Cream
Another option is Derma E Sensitive Skin Moisturizing Cream. This is a fragrance-free moisturizer with mild anti-aging benefits from vitamins A, C and E (retinyl palmitate, ascorbyl palmitate and tocopheryl acetate). It moisturizes with glycerin and vegetable-derived emollients, and only has a trace amount of silicone.
S.W. Basics Cream
S.W. Basics Cream is a "cream" that is in fact made from only oils! Like the brand's Cleanser, the formula is as simple as it gets—the ingredients are shea butter, coconut oil and olive oil. In the jar, the texture is a salve, and then it turns into an oil as you massage it over your skin. But don't worry because after a few moments, it's all absorbed, and miraculously does NOT leave you greasy. For best results, I would layer this over a serum.
MV Organic Skincare Pure Jojoba
Or maybe you'd like to get even simpler, with just ONE oil. If so, I suggest MV Organic Skincare Pure Jojoba, the highest quality pure jojoba oil you can get! As you've probably heard, jojoba is a fast-absorbing oil that has a texture similar to our sebum. For reactive skin, founder Sharon McGlinchey recommends using it instead of moisturizer or layering it underneath another moisturizer. It also works as a makeup remover and oil cleanser!
Derma E Hydrating Eye Cream
I've long struggled with a sensitive eye area, so most eye creams I try end up giving me crepey, irritated skin. But Derma E Hydrating Eye Cream I tolerate really well! This is not the richest eye cream, nor does it have major anti-aging properties. What it does do is give light hydration that is perfect under makeup.
Kypris Pot of Shade: Heliotropic SPF 30 Sunscreen & Primer
If you have light skin, Kypris Pot of Shade: Heliotropic SPF 30 Sunscreen & Primer would be a good choice for a face sunscreen. Not only is the active ingredient 20 percent zinc oxide, but the formula is also free from fragrance and essential oils to accommodate sensitive skin. (I say it's best for light skin because it may give a white cast on darker tones.)
Avène Tinted Mineral Fluid SPF 50+
For a tinted option, there's Avène Tinted Mineral Fluid SPF 50+. This one is also fragrance-free, and protects with 14.6 percent zinc oxide and 11.4 percent titanium dioxide. It comes in one sheer matte tint that should be suitable for medium to dark tones. Plus, you get up to 80 minutes of water-resistance.
Note: It also comes in a non-tinted version.
Attitude Sensitive Skin Care Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
If you need a sunscreen you can use from head to toe, I like Attitude Sensitive Skin Care Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30. In addition to its 20 percent zinc oxide, it has one percent colloidal oatmeal to soothe sensitive skin. There is no fragrance in here, either. It may feel a little tacky at first so you just need to give it a few minutes to dry down (it becomes matte).
Shani Darden Texture Reform Gentle Resurfacing Serum
One frustrating thing with sensitive skin is that it's difficult to use products with anti-aging ingredients—often, they are too harsh and irritating. Fortunately, I've found a formula that most sensitive skin should tolerate. Shani Darden Texture Reform Gentle Resurfacing Serum is the sister product to her cult favourite retinoid, Retinol Reform. Instead of retinol, it contains retinyl palmitate, a mild vitamin A derivative. See my review for all the details!
MV Organic Skincare Signature Mineral Mask
My favourite mask for sensitive skin is the MV Organic Skincare Signature Mineral Mask. This is a dry powder—just a super fine white French clay—and you mix it with water to create a creamy texture. Because the clay is high in minerals, it helps to calm the skin and reduces redness. It also gently exfoliates, and is even said to make skin stronger!
Doctor Rogers RESTORE Healing Balm
It's always handy to have a multipurpose balm, and my pick for sensitive skin is Doctor Rogers RESTORE Healing Balm. Doctor Rogers is a real person, the dermatologist Heather Rogers, and her goal with this line is to support skin healing without unnecessary, irritating ingredients. So her balm is made from just castor oil, wax and glycerin. It can be used on dry skin patches, lips, cuts and scrapes, and even post-procedure skin.
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What's your favourite skincare product for sensitive skin?
Have you tried any of these?